I started teaching Zelador and Zeloso the piaffe in May 2010. We began in the stall with the horse raising one hind leg, holding it up for a short time, then putting it back down. Click/treat. Occasionally a month or two would pass and we wouldn’t do anything specific for the piaffe, then we’d do a few days of “piaffe play”. In May 2011 Zelador was really good at the diagonal pairs, but didn’t understand that I was looking for a trot (bounce) on the spot. Lauren Bode (who is an animal communicator) made her first visit to our farm and we talked about this bounce. She explained it to Zelador and the next time we tried the piaffe he bounced!

(I must admit that I’ve worked mainly with Zelador developing the piaffe. He’s “my” horse. Zeloso is Bill’s. I’ve played a bit with Zeloso, but he’s probably only had about 10% of the work that Zelador’s had. However, I’ve been more attentive to Zeloso’s piaffe training in the past few months and he’s coming along nicely. He’s just figuring out the “bounce” and every once in a while we can see it for a step or two and he’s instantly rewarded.)

In October 2011 we were performing in the Grelo Farms gala. There are pillars in the arena. Prior to the dress rehearsal we were allowed to take Zelador and Zeloso into the arena to familiarize them with it. The boys were free and I was standing near the pillars. (The pillars have been used for centuries to help develop the piaffe and some other classical movements.) Zelador came to the pillars and stopped between them. He positioned himself perfectly, then looked at me. If he could talk I think he would have said, “Serious stuff goes on here.”

The week following the performance he demonstrated another leap forward in his understanding of the piaffe in-hand and at liberty.

In December we filmed Zelador at liberty doing the piaffe. He had a wonderful time!

Meanwhile in August 2011 Ann Clifford was doing some bronze work for a retired horse vet. She told him about the piaffe for cookies and he said, “Horses cannot do the piaffe for a carrot.” Well, wouldn’t you know, last week the vet finally saw Zelador playing at liberty, doing tricks and the piaffe. He cheered! Declaring, “That was beautiful!”

Another August event was we learned about Jean Claude Racinet’s “counted walk”. The counted walk is very small steps of the walk which are almost on the spot. You can see the horse engage his hind end (change the angle of the hip and the hind legs are more under the body). The Racinet DVD shows several horses doing the counted walk. Some of these horses are “high in rear” (hind end higher than the withers) and are not the typical Grand Prix dressage prototype. It’s amazing to see this walk evolve into piaffe steps. The rider creates this NOT with a whip or spurs, but by sitting very quietly and arching his/her back. There’s no nagging every step of the way to keep the horse piaffing. Zelador figured out the counted walk while Zeloso is still working on it. Zeloso prefers BIG walk steps so we help him shorten them by slowing everything down and doing some lateral steps to the wall.

Christi McQuaker comes and helps me with the boys when she’s in town. This schedule is sometimes haphazard. This past year she’s been to Europe to show and buy horses, attended shows in Canada and spent a hunk of time showing in Florida. However, we did manage to get her on Zelador and Zeloso to help the boys develop the piaffe under saddle. The video here was taken the second time she rode the piaffe on her own. The first time was the day before. We’d done “the usual”: I’m on the ground, she’s in the saddle and the horse is positioned along the wall. We start at the location where we traditionally practice the piaffe. We put on our piaffe music to help us with the rhythm and the split second that Zelador does a piaffe step we stop, praise and treat him.

When we first put Christi on his back it was quite astonishing to see Zelador go back to the first lessons in the stall. Gone was the bounce. That’s when I thought: a rider is a whole new ball game. Even someone as light-weight as Christi is drastically changing Zelador’s balance. So, we rewarded one or two steps, walked him in a calming circle, then brought him back to the wall for another step or two. The day before we shot the video I fetched Zeloso who was patiently standing on a pedestal and said, “Christi while I’m helping Zeloso why don’t you go to the middle of the arena and see what you can get with Zelador.” I glanced over once or twice and cheered! The two of them were figuring things out.

I couldn’t help but wonder how all those horses through all those years learned the piaffe under saddle. They never had the luxury of figuring it out in-hand or at liberty. Just goes to show you how hard horses try to figure out what we want and strive to please us.

So, the video here of Christi and Zelador is most definitely footage of THE BEGINNING…after twenty-one months…